I didn’t review Phyllis Chesler’s “The Death of Feminism” when it came out more than a year ago, and that was a mistake. The book, which accused American feminists of ignoring the oppression of Muslim women out of a combination of multicultural piety and anti-Americanism, was such a slapdash, narcissistic mess I thought it would sink of its own accord. How, for example, could anyone take seriously an analysis of Muslim gender relations, based on the author’s account of her marriage to an Afghan almost fifty years ago? If I tried to describe, say, Catholic attitudes toward women on the basis of my 1974 romance with the bartender of the Bells of Hell, wouldn’t that seem a little, I dunno, self-involved to you?

I know a lot of the feminists Chesler excoriates for imaginary crimes against sisterhood; in fact, I came in for several pages of rather unhinged abuse myself. I just couldn’t believe anyone would give the book the time of day. How seriously can you take a writer who has turned herself into a tax-deductible “organization” for which she solicits donations on her Web site? Is that even legal?

In a way I was right. The book tanked. But its argument has taken on a life of its own. That selfish Western feminists have abandoned Muslim women has become a truism on the right. Well, with Iraq a shambles and Afghanistan on its way to becoming a Taliban-friendly narco-state, these can’t be happy days for the proponents of gunpoint liberation. You can see how it would go in the offices of The Weekly Standard: Hmmm… maybe invading countries and killing a lot of innocent people isn’t the way to get women out of those burqas? Oh, never mind, here’s a piece by Christina Hoff Sommers blaming American feminists for turning their backs on female victims of “lashings, stonings, and honor killings” in the Muslim world. Whew!

According to Sommers’s “The Subjection of Islamic Women and the Fecklessness of American Feminism” the major obstacles in the path of Muslim women’s progress are Eve Ensler, Barbara Ehrenreich, the National Organization for Women and me. She attacks any feminist, basically, who either concentrates on domestic issues, as NOW does, or who makes theoretical connections between the situation of women in the West and elsewhere.


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